By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
Johnny Gargano vs. Leon Ruff for the NXT North American Championship: Gargano’s pre-match promo that led to the wheel spin that “randomly” landed on Ruff’s name was laugh out loud funny. Gargano has found his groove and has emerged as one of the most entertaining heels in the game. Ruff pulling off the upset win was a blast. Gargano failing to “reverse the curse” even against a handpicked opponent was totally unexpected, and NXT created its own version of Cheeseburger from ROH. Ruff played his part well, and Damian Priest was the perfect agitator for Gargano. Everything about this segment was just plain fun.
Santos Escobar vs. Jake Atlas for the NXT Cruiserweight Championship: There was no reason to think lighting would strike twice in back to back matches. Granted, Atlas wasn’t nearly the long shot that Ruff was, but his chances of winning went from slim to none in my mind after Ruff won the opening match. Even so, this was a quality cruiserweight title match. Atlas has had smoother outings, but he still came away looking good in defeat. Escobar continues to shine as the faction leader and cruiserweight champion.
Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan vs. Tyler Breeze and Fandango for the NXT Tag Titles: My guard was down going into this match. There was no reason to think Burch and Lorcan would lose the tag titles so soon, and I assumed it would be more of a spotlight win for the new champions. But both teams came through with a strong tag team match that turned out to be worthy of the main event slot. Pat McAfee continues to be a fantastic heel promo, and the post match beatdown angle put good heat on him and his crew. The only negative was the production team going overboard with the camera cuts during the post match angle. WWE tries to project a sense of chaos when they take this approach, but it’s actually counterproductive in that they take many of us out of the moment.
Tommaso Ciampa: This was a mixed bag. Ciampa clearly put a lot of thought into the promo and I really liked this calm delivery until he fired up at the end. But I could have done without him talking about how Harley Race and Killer Kowalski never took liberties with their opponents. The insider lingo appeals to a small percentage of fans while leaving more casual fans confused. Ultimately, though, Ciampa spoke in a way that commanded the full attention of viewers and came through with a quality promo.
Raquel Gonzalez and Boa: Gonzalez looked like a badass for snapping on Boa after he informed her that Xia Li could not appear for their match. I have no clue what’s happening with Boa, Li, or the older man who showed up or whether I will like the payoff, but I must admit that I am very curious to see where it’s going.
Timothy Thatcher vs. Dexter Lumis: First off, August Grey sounds like the pen name your horny uncle uses when he writes romance novels geared toward middle aged housewives. Anyway, when Thatcher was beating up Grey in the backstage area, I just kept praying that they would avoid Lumis’s latest drawing. I enjoy Lumis more often than not, and I am very high on Thatcher, but there are just some acts that don’t mesh well. The concern here was that Thatcher would have to deliver the petrified selling that others do for Lumis, but they never went there and it turned out to be an entertaining match.
Toni Storm vs. Candice LeRae: The match was fine. The reveal of Indi Hartwell playing the Ghostface role was no surprise, which is fine. The concerning part is that it feels like Storm is struggling to click in NXT like she did in NXT UK and during the Mae Young Classic. Storm felt like a can’t miss star at one point, but NXT creative just can’t seem to find a way to help her build momentum.
I really don’t see what others seem to see in Pat McAfee’s promos. To give him credit – he tries but it comes across so fake to me. The body language, hand gestures and the voice just arent convincing and is getting irritating really quickly. I don’t mean irritating in a good heel way either.